+1 Recommend
2 collections

      If you have found this article useful and you think it is important that researchers across the world have access, please consider donating, to ensure that this valuable collection remains Open Access.

      State Crime Journal is published by Pluto Journals, an Open Access publisher. This means that everyone has free and unlimited access to the full-text of all articles from our international collection of social science journalsFurthermore Pluto Journals authors don’t pay article processing charges (APCs).

      • Record: found
      • Abstract: found
      • Article: found
      Is Open Access

      Violating Food System Workers' Rights in the Time of COVID-19: The Quest for State Accountability

      1 , 2
      State Crime Journal
      Pluto Journals
      rights, food, workers, COVID-19


            Food system workers, accounting for nearly one-third of the global workforce, are vital to the universal realization of the right to food, yet face formidable barriers to the realization of their own rights. Despite state obligations to protect, respect, and fulfil the rights of workers under international human rights law, gaps in legal frameworks and lack of political will have left food system workers exposed to discrimination and abuse at the hands of private actors. Migrant workers, as well as racial and ethnic minorities, in particular, face targeted exploitation without redress. Case studies demonstrate the extent of this harm, even as governments designate workers as “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors of this article argue that deliberate inaction by states to extend meaningful protections to workers or indict exploitative actors demonstrates the need for a new state crime—one that holds accountable governments that are complicit in the grave violations of workers' fundamental rights.


            Author and article information

            State Crime Journal
            Pluto Journals
            1 April 2021
            : 10
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.13169/statecrime.10.issue-1 )
            : 80-103
            [1 ] University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
            [2 ] Harvard University
            © 2021 International State Crime Initiative

            All content is freely available without charge to users or their institutions. Users are allowed to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of the articles in this journal without asking prior permission of the publisher or the author. Articles published in the journal are distributed under a http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

            Custom metadata



            1. The food system includes all processes involved in keeping us fed: growing, harvesting, processing (or transforming or changing), packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming and disposing of food and food packages. Food systems workers include entire employment relations in this process.

            2. The authors deliberately use a concept of “food systems” to include various elements and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation, and consumption of food, as well as the output of these activities including socioeconomic and environmental outcomes. See HLPE (2020), p. IV.

            3. See Elver (2018) and Elver (2020) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Report to the Human Rights Council, UN Doc. A/HRC/40/56.

            4. Estimating that 130 million people may be pushed into chronic hunger by the end of the 2020 due to the pandemic.

            5. Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and Protocol of 2014, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention, 1948 (No. 87), Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98), Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100), Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105), Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182).

            6. See ILO 2020b.

            7. States have the option of extending the Convention's coverage to include vessels less than 24 m.

            8. For example, as of 2020, the Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188) was ratified by 18 states, the Plantations Convention, 1958 (No. 110) was ratified by 12 states, and the Safety and Health in Agriculture Convention, 2001 (No. 184) was ratified by 18 states. See ILO, Ratification by Convention, www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/f?p=1000:12001:::NO:::.

            9. See statement by Hilal Elver, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, on her visit to Italy, 20–31 January 2020 (Rome, 31 January 2020), www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25512.

            10. Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain; 40 million people are estimated to be trapped in modern slavery worldwide. See: www.antislavery.org/slavery-today/modern-slavery/.

            11. See also Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Report to the Human Rights Council, UN Doc. A/HRC/40/56 (citing to A/HRC/30/35, para. 26, and A/HRC/33/46, paras. 17 and 30).

            12. See, for example, Kate Hodal and Chris Kelly, “Trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers to catch food for prawns”, The Guardian, 10 June 2014; Robin McDowell, Margie Mason, and Martha Mendoza, “AP investigation: slaves may have caught the fish you bought”, Associated Press, 25 March 2015; Ian Urbina, “‘Sea slaves’: the human misery that feeds pets and livestock”, New York Times, 27 July 2015; Human Rights Watch, “Hidden chains: rights abuses and forced labour in Thailand's fishing industry”, 23 January 2018.

            13. Note that China, South Korea, and Indonesia have not ratified the ILO Work in Fishing Convention.

            14. “Structural racism refers to the ways in which social structures and institutions, over time, perpetuate and produce cumulative, durable, race-based inequalities. This can occur even in the absence of racist intent on the part of individuals.” See: See https://foodfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/DR1Final.pdf.

            15. Examples of abuse of workers and forced labour around the world can be found from the Business & Human Rights Resources Center. Available at: www.business-humanrights.org/en/sectors/agriculturefoodbeveragetobaccofishing.

            16. See, for example, U.S. EEOC, “Del Monte Fresh Produce Agrees to Settle EEOC Farmworker National Origin Lawsuit” (18 November 2020), www.eeoc.gov/newsroom/del-monte-fresh-produce-agrees-settle-eeoc-farmworker-national-origin-lawsuit; Farm Workers Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services Program, “J&R Baker Farms to Pay $205,000 to Settle EEOC Race and National Origin Discrimination Lawsuit” (6 July 2016), https://farmworkerrights.org/tag/discrimination/.

            17. Complaint under title vi of the civil rights act of 1964, 42U.S.C. §§ 2000d-2000d-7; 7 C.F.R. §§15.1-15.12.

            18. Press release of the report of Special Rapporteur by Elver on Agricultural workers A/73/164 (2018) available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23754 &LangID=E (accessed 30 November 2020).

            19. There are two very different human rights based definition of state crime: the “torture paradigm” versus the “health paradigm,” the former emphasizing civil and political rights, the latter economic, social, and cultural rights. See Penny J. Green and Tony Ward (2000) “State Crime, Human Rights, and the Limits of Criminology”, Journal of Social Justice, 27(1): 103.


            Comment on this article